Readers’ Blog

So Pretty

Popularity 11Viewed 11137 times 2014-1-12 13:06 |System category:Life| beauty in China, pretty, cuteness, prettiness

I never thought prettiness might be more important to Chinese than it is to Americans, but that certainly seems to be the case, at least to me. In America, girls love to say“cute”. They'll say a boy is cute, whereas boys will say a girl is “hot”, and they don't just mean her face. In Japan, cute is all over the map. The country has gone juvenile. Everything is about cute. In South Korea, the women are mad about plastic surgery, and many of them end up looking very similar. When I see Asian clothing ads, young models look eerily alike, posed to resemble even younger schoolgirls.


I wonder why the China Daily article “10 Top Countries for Plastic Surgery” has been on the top viewed list for weeks. It's because prettiness is paramount in China. Why? The generic term for pretty, piao liang, can be used for males or females, and it's used a lot. Students worry aloud about not being pretty or thin enough to attract a boyfriend or girlfriend. Too often I'd catch kids looking at themselves and posing anytime there was a mirror. Once I was giving oral exams in an office with a large mirror, and I'd notice my student assistant, a plain-looking girl, turning this way and that and checking her appearance every time I glanced up.


But what was most amusing to me was when a male student kept asking me if I thought he was getting fat. I didn't know whether he was asking everyone, or just me. But every time he did this, I had to keep myself from laughing, because in America, this is a question women ask men, not vice versa. If a guy is smart, he will never answer a woman directly, because she will always get upset. If he says yes, you're fat, the woman will be hurt. If he says no, you're not fat, the woman will not believe him. The best thing to do is probably mumble something about not being able to tell for sure, and quickly change the subject.


American men don't ask women the same question because they don't usually think of themselves as fat, they don't much care, or they don't want women to think they care too much. But in China, everyone cares. A boy brought a classmate over to visit me, and say, look at him, don't you think he's pretty? I was astonished. Not liking this question, I said something like, I suppose so. A girl once said to me she thought I was beautiful because I looked younger than her mother, even though I was older. This I found quite funny. No one's ever given me a compliment quite like that.


Then there's the direct way Chinese people will say, oh, you're very pretty, you're so thin, or you're fat to just about anyone. That's hard to get used to. Anyone who says, “You're fat” to someone in America is asking for trouble because it is not politically correct. People are very sensitive about it. They think you're insulting them by telling them the truth. Not even doctors will say it to their patients. Euphemisms such as heavy, full-figured, and large-boned are substituted. When I was an actively practicing physician, 80% of my female patients said they wanted to lose weight, but the only ones I thought would succeed were the ones who were able to describe themselves using the word fat. That way I knew they had faced the truth.


The explosion of online dating in China means that many people send photos of themselves to strangers online. A boy who was looking for a girlfriend once showed me photos two girls had sent him via his cellphone. One girl had sent him carefully posed and extensively edited photos which looked like the contrived and artificial models in clothing ads, but which he found impressive. I guess it's quite common for people to heavily edit photos of themselves. The standard of girl beauty in China is fairly standard in Asia. Long hair that's either black or dyed, matchstick body with no muscles, and pale skin. It's much the same for boys, except for the hairdos.


I get bored when everyone tries to conform to the same standard of beauty and wears the same kind of clothes. After a while, no one stands out and because it's all about packaging, it's too shallow. When people are ok about looking different, at least you might suspect there's more underneath. Most people aren't naturally pretty, let's face it. Obviously, prettiness is an advantage. But it's too bad when a pretty person doesn't have anything beneath. Prettiness doesn't last long. When it's gone, there ought to be something left.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


Passing

Eggs
4

Flowers
2

Shake hands

Ray

Friends who just made a statement (6 Person)

Like 0 Share
8.03K

Report

Comment Comment (13 comments)

Reply Report liu5222512 2014-1-13 00:22
What you have narrated in your blogs about the phenomenons in China,they are all impressive,objective and deeprooted with Chinese character,which seem and sound somewhat  strange and impolite to foreignors,but hard to be perceptible for our Chinese,and indeed,they are substantive realities in China,which are also impossible for Chinese to change that way in the long run.

Old habits die hard.
Reply Report lexalee 2014-1-13 06:53
it's ironic that chinese consider westerners very direct, but it's not entirely true. when it's about business or getting something done, yes. but people sometimes lose their jobs when they make what are perceived as sexist, racist, offensive,  or negative comments. punishment can be very severe for small wrongs when you work for the government, media, or a big corporation. so westerners have been trained to steer clear of calling people fat, ugly, stupid, dumb, short - at least in public.  there are official terms like "African-American" and "Native American" but some of these folks will roll their eyes at those words and say, "I'm black" or "I'm Indian". It's never occurred to me to call myself "Chinese-American". sounds like I have to justify my citizenship. I just say I'm American. Once on TV, I heard a woman yell, "I am a lesbian American!!". so now we have a new group name that tries to include all alternative sexual people. LGBT lesbian gay bisexual transgender. as more possibilities come up, no doubt there will be more letters added, or a new term invented. political correctness gets very complicated.
Reply Report voice_cd 2014-1-13 09:11
Your article has been recommended to the homepage. Thanks for sharing here !
Reply Report robert237 2014-1-13 10:35
""it's ironic that chinese consider westerners very direct, but it's not entirely true. when it's about business or getting something done, yes. but people sometimes lose their jobs when they make what are perceived as sexist, racist, offensive,  or negative comments. punishment can be very severe for small wrongs when you work for the government, media, or a big corporation. so westerners have been trained to steer clear of calling people fat, ugly, stupid, dumb, short - at least in public.""
I can tell you it goes even further than that. At one job all new employees were required to take a class led by the human resources department. It dealt entirely with political correctness on the job. During this class we were instructed not to tell a fellow worker that she was pretty and not to say things like "That's a nice dress". It could be construed as a 'come-on' and has no place in the workplace. We men left the meeting and began making jokes about what exactly COULD we say to a woman at work. I'm not a 'rudolph vaselino' so it really didn't bother me too much but in the U.S. you'd better make sure
you know a woman at work well enough to know she wouldn't be offended if you say "That's a nice dress you're wearing today.. is it new?" Otherwise it could set off a series of events that could end up getting you fired. It really is that bad.
Reply Report wingless 2014-1-13 11:41
You hit the nail on the head. Looks are everything nowadays, shallowness and emptiness  is just not appreciated. Welcome to the world of today.
Reply Report msrong 2014-1-13 12:17
Over-emphasis on surface beauty is all too evident on many threads and articles here. Infantile questions posed by reporters, "who do you think is prettier?" is very common and an embarrassment to the profession and to the culture.
Reply Report Dr.Bill.Shen 2014-1-13 13:17
lexalee: it's ironic that chinese consider westerners very direct, but it's not entirely true. when it's about business or getting something done, yes. but peo ...
In US, you have to be very sensitive in order to survive. PC is a direct reflection on that. In China, there is no such thing such as sensitivity training and this contributes to some perceived "being rude", "being saying things offensive" and etc.. If you are very religious, you could be offended easily in China, since most Chinese are not religious and they lack a understanding about the importance of god in your spiritual world. Another stark impression to American in China is wide-spread discrimination practices. In a job ad, you can easily see stated requirements on age, height, good-looking, marriage status and etc.. These are strictly prohibited in the states.
Reply Report lexalee 2014-1-13 13:53
robert237: ""it's ironic that chinese consider westerners very direct, but it's not entirely true. when it's about business or getting something done,  ...
i wonder who comes up with pc terms like senior citizens, mentally challenged, and can we talk ladies' clothing sizes? extra big sizes are called "women's" sizes, which is ridiculous. then there's the oxymoron "petite large", which is equally ridiculous. if a woman is short and fat, she is not petite. but in america,   women will  not buy clothes labeled "for short, fat women". and you better not label clothes as suitable for "middle-aged" or "old" people if you want to sell them.
Reply Report lexalee 2014-1-13 13:58
Dr.Bill.Shen: In US, you have to be very sensitive in order to survive. PC is a direct reflection on that. In China, there is no such thing such as sensitivity trai ...
what the world needs is more common sense
Reply Report MichaelM 2014-1-14 08:38
I think it's possibly just a matter of semantics.

'Prettiness' is not a word I've ever heard used before. In fact, I needed to convince myself that it is in fact a proper English word. Not that I would doubt a highly intelligent retired M.D. I'd just never heard it or used it. So, I looked it up and confirmed (to myself) that it is in fact a proper English word.

To us, Westerners, it might be equal in meaning to the word 'cute.' I guess, as I think about it, it does have a slightly different connotation than cute (at least to me). But I think the meaning may also slightly vary depending on someone's understanding of either word and personal perspective. We don't often hold to the same dictionary definition, understanding or usage of a word.
Reply Report lexalee 2014-1-14 10:05
"Cute" has more juvenile connotations in English, Japanese, and English. In Japanese, it translates directly to "kawaii", viz Pokemon, Hello Kitty, and little animals on everything from mittens to aprons.  In Mandarin, people usually say "Kě'ài", though the literal translation is "lovable" . In both languages, there are other words for beautiful and pretty, which are more acceptable for older kids and adults .
Reply Report robert237 2014-1-15 11:51
lexalee: i wonder who comes up with pc terms like senior citizens, mentally challenged, and can we talk ladies' clothing sizes? extra big sizes are called &quo ...
There are a few exceptions.
The "'fill-in-the-blank' for Dummies" books are wildly popular.
It seems Americans readily accept being a dummy but will fight
tooth and nail not to be called any of the names you mentioned.
I'm a fat old man but I'm no dummy.  
Reply Report KnowledgeWisdom 2014-1-16 02:23
lexalee

I appreciate your perspective and the way you write about your observations.

I find the Chinese people refreshing, in that they are more open and frank in speaking their mind, maybe the west see it as rude and I am certain that when I as a westerner are on the receiving end of the comments I will not be so glad about it.

For me personally, beauty is in the character of a person, our outer beauty fades with time, but someone who has depth to their character, their strength and beauty last. I would rather have such a person in my life than the ones who parade around being hot.

facelist doodle Doodle board

You need to login to comment Login | register


lexalee

I am a semi-retired American physician and medical/science writer who lives in New Orleans, in the southeastern USA. I spent 2012-2013 teaching at a college in Lianyungang, Jiangsu.

Album

Recent comments

  • The Story of a Corrupt American Mayor 2014-9-18 21:26

    LaoshiDan: The tigers in the US are the big Wall Street banksters (none of which have even served a single day in prison since the 2008 financial crisis) and mos ...
    According to political writer Clancy DuBos, "Nagin owes more than $500,000 [very little compared to bigger fish]  in court-ordered restitution... faces foreclosure on the family home...admitted he had only $23.65 in his checking account and his wife earns a mere $360 a month...must serve at least 85 percent of his 10-year sentence".

  • The Story of a Corrupt American Mayor 2014-9-18 11:43

    Will 10 years in prison become 5 after review and parole?  Did he repay any corruptly obtained funds?  If not,he could have got off pretty lightly compared to China!  Even though Jenny we aren't comparing with China!

Star blogger

Anming

4124

views

Maierwei

2603

views

财神

4580

views

Most Viewed

Most commented

BACK TO THE TOP
Contact us:Tel: (86)010-84883548, Email: blog@chinadaily.com.cn
Blog announcement:| We reserve the right, and you authorize us, to use content, including words, photos and videos, which you provide to our blog
platform, for non-profit purposes on China Daily media, comprising newspaper, website, iPad and other social media accounts.